A council of village elders in India has ordered two sisters to be raped as punishment after their brother eloped with a married woman.
According to the Times Of India, the Baghpat village council in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh also ordered that the two sisters, Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her 15-year-old sister be paraded naked with blackened faces.
But the sisters and their family avoided the sentence by fleeing the village to the nearby city of Delhi.
According to the Indian Zee Media, the sisters’ brother Ravi fell in love with a girl from the Jat upper caste. Ravi and his family belong to the lower Dalit class considered “untouchables.”
The Jat upper caste girl was married off against her will in February to a young man belonging to her social caste, but she escaped from her in-laws’ home and eloped with her lover Ravi on March 22.
The couple later gave themselves up after the reports reached them that members of Ravi’s family were being held and tortured by the police on behalf of the Jat upper caste family.
Despite giving themselves up, the village council, consisting of senior male members of upper caste families, sat on July 31 and decided that Ravi’s sisters be raped as punishment for their brother’s action.
Fearing for their lives, the sisters and their family fled the village to Delhi.
Sumit Kumar, a brother of the two sisters, told Amnesty International that the Jat caste was powerful in the village and that the “Jat decision is final.”
The family said they cannot return to the village because they fear for their lives.
The older sister Meenakshi has filed a petition with India’s Supreme Court asking for protection. In her plea to the Supreme Court, Meenakshi said that her “family cannot return back to her village and have been rendered homeless.”
She also alleged that her family was being harassed by the police on behalf of the family of the Jat girl her brother Ravi eloped with.
The Supreme Court has reportedly given the Uttar Pradesh authorities two weeks to respond to the petition.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on the Uttar Pradesh authorities to intervene to protect the two sisters.
The petition has gained traction, having received about 43,000 signatures.
“Unelected village councils such as this are widespread in parts of India.
“More often than not they are made up of older men from dominant castes, who prescribe rules for social behavior and interaction in villages.
“Nothing could justify this abhorrent punishment. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s against the law.”
The family said they believe that the Jat girl is pregnant with Ravi’s child and that her life could be in danger.
Village councils in northern India are known as Khap panchayats. They are composed of senior male members of rural communities’ upper castes. Although they have been declared illegal by the Indian Supreme Court, they continue to wield power and influence in many parts of rural India.